A festival should be outlandish, so bring on the dancing nuns

Hard to know where to be last weekend in the new riotously festive Britain. Manchester for the Gay Mardi Gras? Acton for the Tomato Throwing? Notting Hill for the Carnival? Edinburgh for the Festival?

Suddenly we can't stop revelling. What's happened to us? Time was when the only annual street event north of Aylesbury was the Whit Walks: a hundred famished working girls in pink-sherbet party dresses processioning under banners dedicated to the Virgin. We made our own fun in those days. We stood on the pavement and waved little flags, whether we practised Virginolatry or not. Then came the Manchester University Medical School Rag with its bed races down Corporation Street and its interns kitted out as fantasy nurses in stockings and high heels. Racier than a Whit Walk, but still not exactly carnivalesque. Ditto the burgeoning bank holidays, each a desolating blank in our social calendar which we filled, if the sun shone, by motoring up to Rawtenstall in the forlorn hope of finding a tea-shop open. And now, as though the souls of the inhabitants of this bashful island have succumbed in the night to aliens from the planet Saturnalia, it's all steel bands, bare breasts, and men in glitter posing-pouches.

Or it is wherever I'm not. Given that I had to be in Liverpool for a table tennis tournament anyway, I opted for the Gay Mardi Gras just up the road in Manchester. Big mistake. Things may well have hotted up in the beer tents later, but the processionals were disappointing by virtue of their virtue. I don't know whether more than one alien from the planet Saturnalia has taken me over in my sleep, or whether there always was an element of libertinage lurking in my character; either way I find that these days I require more or less total nudity, an unacceptable level of public lewdness and a constant stream of sacrilege and blasphemy to put me in the party mood. What I should have guessed, knowing the primness of the Manchester city fathers, was that the Gay Mardi Gras would turn out to be just another Whit Walk with feathers. I had more fun at the Merseyside Table Tennis Grand Prix. Not exactly an orgiastic happening itself, but at least the players knew why they were there, raised a sweat, abandoned self-control, and went home jubilant or desolated or both. And you can't ask more from a knees-up than that.

In the end a festival must be faithful to itself. Which is why reports of John Humphrys giving the controller of BBC1 a roasting at the Edinburgh Television Festival made satisfying reading. Television Festivals are places where BBC1 controllers are meant to be turned on a sacrificial spit. And if the most fearsome torturer broadcasting can come up with is John Humphrys, then that too measures the plight of the industry and prolongs the agony. Death by small persistent puppy.

Reports of John Humphrys appearing at the Edinburgh Literary Festival, however, raise matters of more serious concern. For John Humphrys is not a literary figure. The fact that he is rumoured to want to write a novel does not alter that. Everybody wants to write a novel. Most people already have. The only person I know who has not so far written a novel is my mother, and she is spending more time at her word processor than she used to.

It is also rumoured that John Humphrys feels a special affinity for the literary world. I can't say I have noticed that on his morning radio programme. I'm not complaining; I do not make a habit of tuning into Humphrys before breakfast in the hope of hearing him evincing literary affinities. Frankly, I would not expect them of him. Humphrys' sphere is current affairs, and current affairs is to literature what chalk is to cheese. Any writer who has ever been lured into a current affairs discussion, on radio or on television, will tell you that the experience resembles nothing so much as being kidnapped by headless automata and deposited on the Moon. The Moon, I say, not the planet Saturnalia where, while the population may be wordless, they do at least acknowledge bodily resemblance to us. Not a twitch of a thumb in common, though, when a writer meets a current affairs person, not so much as a mote in the other's eye.

I did Newsnight once, suffering a species of intergalactic non-communication interview with a person whose name sounded like Thirsty Work and who thought I was raving mad. The problem was that as she was a current affairs person her entire auricular system was wired only for the reception of views. And novelists, as you don't need me to remind you, do not have views.

Because they are necessarily unintuitive, undivided and monotonic, views are antithetical to literature. They are also easier to hold than literature is to write, which is why they outnumber literature by millions to one. We are drowning in views. If anything will finish us a species, views will. Hence the importance of a literary festival. It's crucial that we celebrate what we don't have very much of. By the same token, we should hold any literary festival which promiscuously opens its tents to the antithesis of literature - to view-holders - guilty not just of wasting an opportunity, but of treason.

John Humphrys may be good at what he does, but his is the familiar voice of our daily terrestrial existence. The function of festivals is to be outlandish, to relieve us from the drone of the familiar, to throw a party for strange phenomena, such as a dancing nun, an engine-driver in a cocktail dress, or a novelist.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own